Outside the Box (October 01, 2001)

Box House, Montreal, Quebec


Nestled between the cosy cheek-by-jowl brick walk-ups characteristic of Montreal’s Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood, the Box House redefines self-conscious urban renewal. A new hybrid style is achieved through the choice of site, the organization of volumes, and the novel articulation of the aesthetics of the domestic and the industrial.

Situated where the corner of an alleyway meets one of the quarter’s typical narrow lanes, the house comes across as both playful and austere. Like the Thin House (see CA, July 1998), also designed by BUILD (formerly Roo + Carr Design) in the same area of the city, it explores interstitial architectural presence with a serendipitous use of the street condition: the Box House is literally in the middle of the street. A sidewalk stops at the ground floor’s north window, and the house juts into tiny rue St Christophe, which jogs and accommodates the house’s northeast corner.

In contrast to the east side of the house, with its double-height window affording a view of the laneway, a triple-height slot on the west side provides residents with an expansive view of the illuminated cross that tops Mont-Royal. The living space sits between a ground floor studio and a third floor bedroom with en-suite bathroom. Easy accessibility and domesticity, offered through this configuration of stacked spaces, finds a foil in the stylized industrial materiality of a 36-foot high stairwell topped with an industrial skylight. Metal underscores this urban look very effectively; there is liberal use of metal in the form of screens, expanded mesh landings and sheet metal stairs.

The Box House is the fourth such infill project by Michael Carroll and Danita Rooyakkers, and the team’s first single-family semi-detached house. In recent years the considered use of tight city spaces has become an area of interest for architects and designers. A consideration of this trend in city living that promises such benefits as shorter commuting times resulting in reduced fuel consumption makes the Box House exemplary and affordable. This dwelling demonstrates that it is possible to redefine domesticity with the space-consciousness and deliberation that characterizes the new enthusiasm for using urban space for work and living.


Design team: Michael Carroll, Danita Rooyakkers

Technologist: Attila Tonai

Structural: Gino Lanni

Area: 1,500 sq. ft.

Budget: $150,000

Completion: August 1999

Photography: Bridgitte Desrochers